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Lord Jopling: I am most disappointed with the Minister's reply. It is not realistic. It is all very well saying that we can rely on the officers of local authorities to make proper and correct reports, but those reports will be produced by members of the council, who are biased. In almost all cases throughout the country, they are members of political parties and they will look upon the pilot schemes with half an eye to their political advantage. I believe that the Minister has been complacent in his reply.
It is a matter to which we must return at a later stage and I hope that the Minister will consider more carefully the problems to which the reports could give rise. It is a pity that he has not been able to be more specific about the electoral commission. The Local Government Association has proposed that there should be three reports: one from the local authority; one by an independent assessment; and one from the electoral commission. I am not sure that we need as many as that, but if the Minister could undertake to ensure that the legislation dealing with the creation of the electoral commission will include a duty to provide independent assessments of the pilot schemes, that would go a long way to satisfying us.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps my answer was not clear. In future, we shall be able to roll out pilots only on the recommendation of the electoral commission. Therefore, it will have a distinct role in engaging and assessing the way in which pilot schemes have operated and their future prospects. I should have thought that that would satisfy most of the noble Lord's points.
I have considerable sympathy with the points which he and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, accurately said, many academic institutions have great expertise in making such assessments, having been involved in best-value pilot assessments and so forth. We understand the points, but we believe that we should try to make best use of the electoral commission when it is in place. It will have an important role to play in this respect.
Lord Jopling: I hope that the Minister's sympathy can be turned into something solid at Report stage. We must raise this matter again because it is vitally important. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This is the last of what I see to be the three crucial amendments to the Bill. The first related to the free mailshots for the London elections; the second related to the right of access to the full electoral register for commercial organisations; this is the third and, in constitutional terms, it is the most important. It raised considerable concern on these and the Conservative Benches at Second Reading.
The issue of when, how and where we vote is extremely important. Previously, in its central principles, it was always dealt with by primary legislation. The schedules to the Representation of the People Act 1983 contain detailed rules about voting which in any other field would be left to secondary legislation. The rules set out in the schedules extend even to prescribing the equipment which must be present in polling stations. The constitutional importance of rules about voting was illustrated by the fact that when this Bill was debated in the other place, the whole of the Committee stage was taken on the Floor of the House.
Clause 10, which we have just debated, allows pilot schemes to be tried out in local government elections. There is no parliamentary control on the Secretary of State's approval of particular pilots. We did not object to that because it is right that the Secretary of State should have a reasonably free hand in deciding what is to be dealt with in pilot schemes in a small number of locations. However, Clause 11 allows pilot schemes to be made permanent and applied across the board not only for local government elections--the only kind of elections in which they have been tested--but for elections to Westminster, the EU Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
We believe that long-term alterations to the voting system should have full parliamentary approval through primary legislation. That applies not only to the franchise and voting system, but also to the mechanics of voting. Secondary legislation is not enough. That is particularly true, even if it is the affirmative resolution procedure, in view of the proposals in the Wakeham report to restrict the powers of your Lordships' House to block statutory instruments.
The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation recommended that the powers under Clause 11 should be restricted to local government elections; and that the read-out from the pilot schemes could be applied without primary legislation in local government elections, but in other cases could be applied only with primary legislation.
The amendments in the group are intended to achieve that. They would leave the Government free to introduce under Clause 11 secondary legislation to roll over the pilot schemes into permanent form, but primary legislation would be required for elections to the other place and to the other bodies which I mentioned.
Even in respect of local government, the reports from the local authorities operating the pilot schemes are not an adequate basis for a Clause 11 order. In that, I echo the points made on the previous group of amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Therefore, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee proposed a further safeguard that consultation with the electoral commission should take place before the Secretary of State could make an order even in relation to local government.
I was encouraged to hear from the Minister that in future there will be consultation with the electoral commission. I can quite see why that cannot be put into this Bill because the electoral commission is to be set up under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill which is further back in the queue of waiting legislation. But it is plain that the electoral commission should be consulted about all these regulations under Clause 11. That would require an amendment to Clause 6 of what I call for short the political parties Bill, under which, for example, the electoral commission is required to be consulted about the making of any regulations under the Representation of the People Act 1983 for which the affirmative resolution procedure is required. Regulations made under this Bill should also be added to that list.
In summary, we say that Clause 11 should not apply to any elections except local government elections in England and Wales, and should only apply to them after consultation with the electoral commission. I have said that I recognise that that cannot be dealt with in this Bill because the electoral commission is to be set up by a future Bill. But I hope that the Government will not use their powers under Clause 11, even as regards local government, until the electoral commission has been set up and is ready to advise. I ask the Government to undertake to amend Clause 6 of the political parties Bill and not to exercise their powers under Clause 11 before Clause 6 of the political parties Bill is in force.
I recognise that in practice that means that Clause 11 cannot be exercised in time for the local elections in the year 2001 because the electoral commission not only has to be set up by statute but also has to recruit staff and have members appointed. It will take some time before it can come into operation. Therefore, in practice, I believe that the electoral commission cannot operate until the year 2002. I believe that that is acceptable and even desirable. These are extremely important issues. There is no need for great urgency. I believe it essential that the electoral commission is involved in the process and that Clause 11 powers should not be exercised until the electoral commission is
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): I have to advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 110 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 111. Likewise, in this group of amendments, if Amendment No. 115 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 116 or 117.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I support Amendments Nos. 109, 112 and 115. I shall not take much of the Committee's time. I wholly agree that there should be full parliamentary approval of primary legislation as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. At Second Reading I took the stand that Clause 11 could not stand part of the Bill, as drafted--I remain of that opinion--in the sense that it was applicable to all types of elections referred to in Clause 11(7). But if Clause 11 is amended to relate exclusively to revision in the light of pilot schemes limited only to local government elections, well and good. As I understand it, that is broadly the effect of these amendments. That is why I support them. If these or similar amendments to such effect are not acceptable to the Government, then in my view this clause should not stand part of the Bill.
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